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  • Lauren Nolan

Album Review: "BRAT" - Charli XCX


Charli XCX Brat Cover Art

Image: Atlantic Records


BRAT is Charli XCX’s sixth studio album. Following the massive success of her last album  Crash and her single “Speed Drive” for the Barbie movie, the record continues Charli’s streak of connect with audiences through her pop sensibilities and songwriting genius.


TRACK LIST:

360

Club classics

Sympathy is a knife

I might say something stupid

Talk talk

Von dutch

Everything is romantic

Rewind

So I

Girl, so confusing

Apple

B2b

Mean girls

I think about it all the time

365


Charli XCX has always been ahead of the curve. She first broke out into the mainstream with her smash hit “Boom Clap” from her second album, “SUCKER,” in 2014. However, Charli’s career quickly took a new direction in 2016 with the release of her now iconic Vroom Vroom EP, produced by the PC Music label. It was an entirely new sound that shifted Charli's career entirely. From there, her projects focused on experimental and electronic pop. Her use of autotune and unusual song structures have become signatures in her works, as Charli has become a face for the ever-growing hyper-pop movement. The singer-songwriter’s last album, Crash from 2022, took a slightly different approach, focusing more on classic straightforward pop hits. The album was Charli’s most commercially successful, but now, on BRAT, the singer is returning to her PC Music roots with a more vulnerable and mature perspective.



BRAT begins with the single "360," a celebratory track about Charli's success and cementing herself as an icon. The singer's influence in the music landscape has been undeniable in recent years, with several of her contemporaries taking inspiration from the singer's hyper-pop sound and party-girl aesthetic, which Charli nods to with cheeky lines like "I'm your favorite reference baby." The track is a deserved victory lap. Charli XCX is an it girl, so it only makes sense to open the album with an it girl anthem and its accompanying video featuring numerous other iconic women like Rachel Sennott and Julia Fox, the latter of whom Charli namedrops on the track. It's a perfect opener that sets the mood for the brattiness to come.


In the lead-up to this record, Charli tweeted, "i was born to make dance music..i came from the clubs..xcx6 is the album i've always wanted to make." "Club Classics" epitomizes her rave upbringing. With its warbly pounding beat and repeated "right now" sample, the track is insanely catchy and begging to be danced to, which is fitting considering the song is all about wanting to dance at the club to good music. "Club Classics" is a braggadocious banger, where Charli rightfully asserts her dominance as one of the best in the dance electropop scene right now, as she states, "I wanna dance to me." The lyrics also shout out longtime collaborators AG Cook and HudMo, both of whom worked on the record, as well as late producer SOPHIE, who Charli laters tribute once more in the heartwrenching "So I."


"360" and "Club Classics" are confident, fun openers to BRAT, but things quickly take a turn in the song "Sympathy is a knife," which is about intense jealousy towards another woman in the industry. There is a diaristic quality throughout BRAT, with its general lack of rhyme schemes and candid lyricism that is particularly telling within "Sympathy is a knife." Charli's verses about anger and suicidal ideations are brutal in their rawness, and the singer captures intrusive thoughts like few other artists can. This vulnerability carries over into the following record: "I might say something stupid."


Despite being a less-than-2-minute interlude, "I might say something stupid" works as a thesis for the whole record. The track sees Charli in the bathroom of a party, wanting to leave because she feels like she doesn't belong. BRAT, as its title suggests, is filled with attitude and cockiness but also a deep insecurity at the root of that behavior. Charli brilliantly flip-flops between the two throughout the album, and "I might say something stupid" is the album's most honest portrayal of the vulnerable side to the party girl brat aesthetic.


The following three tracks, "Talk Talk," "Von Dutch," and "Everything is romantic," return to that playful BRAT sound. "Talk Talk," is a cute love song about wanting to pursue someone who only communicates over the phone. The track has a hot pink Y2K aesthetic and the album's catchiest chorus by far with lyrics that don't take themself too seriously; "I followed you to the bathroom, but then I felt crazy," which is, unfortunately, very relatable. "Everything is romantic" is similarly lighthearted, celebrating the beauty in a trashy Italian beach with lyrics about bad tattoos and Jesus billboards. Sonically, these two tracks---espeically the latter--harkens back to the experimental hyper-pop sound Charli is known for on projects like Pop 2 and are some of the most danceable made-for-club records on the LP.


The album's lead single, "Von Dutch," is pop perfection. The song's droning beat and repetitious melodic chorus are infectious, and the lyrics overflow with attitude. Dissing an unnamed person, Charli gets the brattiest she does on the record, opening with the brazen "It's okay to just admit that you're jealous of me." It's amazingly petty. The track was a standout single, and sounds even better within the context of the record.




From there, Charli again opens a more emotionally vulnerable side of herself on the record. "Rewind" is introspective reflections on life post-fame, as Charli wishes to celebrity status feeds into insecurities about her appearance and commercial success that she used to never care about. The lyrics are a complete 180 from the tracks before it. Charli goes from "It's so obvious I'm your number one" to "I hate these doubts that keep running through my mind" with two songs. The album's dichotomy of brash confidence and internal pain is brilliant. Charli created a batch of songs that play into and reveal the mask behind her party girl persona and somehow made both categories of songs incredibly catchy and danceable.


Similarly, "Girl, so confusing" tassels with fame as Charli discusses a tension between her and an unnamed fellow musician who she can't tell if she loves or loathes, lyrically referencing back to "Sympathy is a knife." "Girl so confusing" is the song that has stirred up the most conversation online, as many try to uncover who the song is about, but it truly does not matter because of the universal appeal behind it. Charli captures the difficulty that can foster within women's friendships that does not bash this other woman. Throughout the record, Charli is skilled at balancing her emotions with a keen self-awareness.


"So I" is the most powerful and heavy on the record. A tribute to the late producer SOPHIE, who Charli worked with on every project from her Vroom Vroom mixtape in 2016 to her 2020 pandemic album how i'm feeling now, "So I" is an honest look at how regret and grief intertwine. The chorus interpolates SOPHIE's "It's Okay to Cry," as Charli discusses how the producer impacted her music and personality to this day; in the last verse, the singer asks if she "would like this one?" It is so raw it can be challenging to listen through, but it is easily the best song on the record for that very reason.


The last batch of songs continues the album's uptempo, dancy sound. "Apple" is an experimental, 80s synth-wave-inspired song about wanting to run away from a person who hurt Charli. The song features a distinctive EDM mid-way breakdown about driving to the airport that is so abstract only a Charli XCX could do it. B2b is another club banger with a fun, repetitive chorus, ala previous Charli hits like "Unlock it." The singer's attitude is also on full display here as she sings, "Maybe you should run back to her." However, the standout track in this latter section is "Mean Girls," a homage to the type of women who worship Lana Del Rey and wear coquette clothes. The track is sassy with a chorus that will absolutely kill in clubs and live performances. Charli opposes her standard electro-pop sound in the chorus with a beautiful and fun jazz piano solo in the bridge. The jazzy sound gives the already New York-based track a New York sound while also making it stand out as one of the most unique moments on the record.


The last two tracks continue the overarching duality of BRAT. Other than "Sympathy is a knife," "I think about it all the time" is the song with lyrics that sound most like they're coming from Charli's journal word-for-word. The track is an insight look into motherhood and debating when is the right time to start a family. The verses are not too catchy, but it's intentional; Charli is thinking out loud in this song as she confesses her feelings that many women Charli's age start to consider. While the album closer "365" is just a pure dance music banger. The track is a club-ified remix of "360" which connects the album and gives it a cyclical bow that ties everything together.


In one of the best years for pop music in recent memory---seriously, name one major pop artist who hasn't or is planning to release this year--Charli XCX managed to create an album that not only stands out, but rises above as one of the year's best. BRAT feels like an amalgamation of all her previous work that improves upon them in nearly every way. It is honest, interesing, and endlessly catchy and proves itself as one of the best albums---in any genre--of 2024.



Written By Lauren Nolan



*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.

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